Doc is as close as you can get to Cambodia without being
in it. The Bassac River flows through the town and is a
border crossing for river borne traffic, and the small Sam
Mountain has an excellent view of the flat plain on the
other side. It’s an attractive, busy place with a good hotel
and several interesting attractions.
became part of Vietnam in the middle of the eighteenth century
as a gift, a reward for helping the Cambodian monarch to put
down an insurrection. Unsurprisingly, it has a high proportion
of ethnic Kh’mer people among its population, easily identifiable
by their darker skins and a chequered scarf instead of Vietnam’s
ubiquitous conical hat. There’s also a fair number of ethic
Cham and Chinese people, and enough Christians to fill a local
cathedral, making up a rare pot-pourri of cultures and religions.
a large market selling local produce and commodities. As might
be expected, there’s also plenty of smuggled goods changing
hands in both directions. Deep in the market, the Quan Cong
Temple is a rewarding visit. It’s a flamboyant Taoist structure
with good murals and effigies dominated by a ruddy-faced Quan
Cong. Further along the riverfront there are several traditional
short boat trip across the Bassac takes you to several floating
fish farms. They’re modified house-boats - a trap-door in
the floor provides access to nets under the boat where the
fish are grown. A little further takes you to the other bank
and a Cham community. Once you’ve tip-toed across the stepping
stones to avoid the mud, you walk through the stilt house
village to the mosque.
sharing the same linguistic and historical tradition, the
Cham are divided into two quite distinct religious communities,
the Hindu Chams and the Cham Bani, or Muslims. The latter
live mainly in the Chau Doc area and are easily distinguished
by the men's preferred headgear - a crimson fez with a long
golden tassel, or white Muslim prayer cap.
The mountain is a tourism complex in its own right. Everest
it isn’t, although the pancake-flat plains of the Mekong make
it look higher than it is. It’s a ‘holy’ mountain, full of
caves, shrines and temples. The most significant in religious
terms is the Ba Chua Xu, dedicated to the ‘Lady of the Region’.
Her festival is held in the spring. It attracts huge numbers
of devotees and, of course, swarms of vendors hoping to make
important, but more interesting, is the Tay An Pagoda. It’s
architecture is sometimes described as Hindu/Muslim, which
is a bit fanciful. However, there’s a definite Chinese and
Islamic influence, and the interior contains a small army
of colourful effigies. Further along, the Cave Pagoda isn’t
really worth the climb.
energy is best saved for the ascent of the mountain. This
is a gentle stroll rather than mountaineering. The road winds
gently past the new offshoot of the Victoria Hotel (the main
building is down in the town) and culminates in a Vietnamese
Army lookout post. Thoughtfully, there is a path on the left
that allows you to look across at Cambodia and back to Chau
Doc and the Mekong Delta – both as flat as a board.